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The NBA Is Tying Itself Into A Big Knot Over Another Stupid Tampering Concern

Photo: Meg Oliphant (Getty)

The Lakers issued a statement Monday evening clarifying the timeline of communication between Magic Johnson and Ben Simmons, back in November, when Simmons reached out to Magic for tips about playing in the NBA as a humongous point guard who can’t shoot. This is something I’m afraid we all have to care about, now.

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This version of events, with Simmons reaching out to Magic via the 76ers, apparently does not jibe with a version given by 76ers general manager Elton Brand, during a radio appearance Monday morning. Since the NBA is reportedly investigating this sequence for signs of tampering, that discrepancy, of course, must also be reconciled out in public:

The tampering stuff is getting out of hand. The league hit Marc Lasry with a $25,000 fine Monday for giving an honest answer to a question about his Bucks showing up on a list of teams with whom Anthony Davis would consider sticking long-term. Here’s Lasry’s ultra-controversial comment, which the league evidently views as tampering:

“I saw that report, and I think it’s great,” Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry told Sporting News near the Barclays Center court after his team shredded a depleted Nets club in Brooklyn. “It’s a little bit of what we want. We want players to come and play in Milwaukee. And part of it is, when you’re winning and you’re setting a standard for excellence, people see that. People want to win.

“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re in Milwaukee, New York or LA. The whole goal is winning. So we hope it would be players like Anthony Davis and others who want to come to Milwaukee.”

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So we’ve got two competing general managers frantically getting their stories straight in order to protect the Lakers from a tampering charge it turns out neither one of them wants to see, and a co-owner absorbing a fine for acknowledging a report with a perfectly benign and obvious quote. And this is two weeks after the NBA hit Anthony Davis with a $50,000 fine for self-tampering, for allowing his agent to say aloud what is in all cases leaked through channels without any punishment whatsoever. And it’s less than two months after a dumb memo went out across the league warning teams to, uhh, not let their players—all of whom are professionals and adults—talk aloud about one another.

On the one hand, tampering charges should be easy to avoid, enough that Magic deserves all the exasperation he earns each time he blathers his way into another stupid controversy. On the other hand—and this hand is much larger and stronger and is the hand of righteousness and justice—I am sick as shit of all this nonsense! No one who is “protected” by the NBA’s anti-tampering rules—small market owners and their overmatched general managers—deserves to be protected, and the thing that they are being protected from is information being exchanged for the benefit of players making employment decisions. You will note that other industries do not prohibit companies from recruiting from among their competitors! Because it’s unfair to workers in a way that absolutely fucking dwarfs however unfair it is to the Pacers that there are palm trees in Miami!

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So instead of players and agents and general managers just being open and honest about what teams have to offer and where players prefer to play, we’ve got a clunky scoop-based system where intentions and interests are leaked out of one side of a player’s mouth and then denied out of the other, and general managers have to retain accurate memories of who called who and in what order, and no one can acknowledge wanting to play with anyone else, and Ben Simmons can’t ask Magic Johnson about basketball without triggering a damn ethics crisis. It’s exhausting, and it insults far more people than it protects. The NBA should just permit tampering. It would be better than this!

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